Tag Archives: feminism

The Battle of the Sexes Will Be Won By Robots

A dude promoted his book last week by publishing a long, bloated, purple prose opinion piece in The New York Times Sunday Review that set out to solve the gender gap in who has to do the housework.

His brilliant “answer”? Men don’t want to do housework because housework sucks, so women should just not care about whether the housework gets done or not. No one wants to do it, so women should just do enough and then stop whining.
Unsurprisingly, that answer didn’t sit well with a lot of folks.

Rosie the Robot Poster by Tim Goldman

Beautiful poster from timgoldman.com

But I’m a fan of speculative fiction, so I have the answer: Robots.

Obviously we aren’t quite there yet, but pretty much everyone can agree that basic, boring house chores are both essential and absolutely craptastic to have to do. If men don’t want to step up (plenty do, book-selling NYT guy!), and women are sick of doing it, we need a third option.

If you haven’t yet seen “Robot & Frank,” head out and rent it/Netflix it pronto. That’s the kind of robot I’m talking about. Or basically a non-sassy Rosie. Or a super-powered Roomba. Something that will clean the floors, remember to do the dishes, wipe down the countertops, dust the shelves, maybe water that peace lily you cherish. Nothing fancy.

Sure, we’ve made some art/movies/books about how these domestic robots would be a problem, but really, I think they’re the answer. They wouldn’t replace many jobs — in fact, it may elevate those butlers and housecleaners to a higher-pay position, because having a human housekeeper would become a status symbol. And we’re a really long way off from autonomous robots, so the first tiers of these helper-bots would be pretty limited, and therefore not a serious threat to human jobs.

But if we want that — and I think we can agree, we ALL want that — we are going to need some clever lady engineers to get on that for us.

Why lady engineers, do you ask? Before you cry sexism, just look at history: most of the time-saving housekeeping products we rely on today were invented by women (even if they themselves didn’t do much in the way of housework).

  • Cannister Vacuum, Nancy Perkins, 1987
  • Cooking Stove, Elizabeth Hawk, 1867
  • Dishwasher, Josephine Cochran, 1872
  • Electric Hot Water Heater, Ida Forbes, 1917
  • Mop-Wringer Pail, Eliza Wood, 1889
  • Refrigerator, Florence Parpart, 1914
  • Washing machine, Margaret Colvin, 1871
  • The Practical Kitchen layout, Lillian Gilbreth, 1920s
  • Scotchguard, Patsy Sherman, 1952
  • Improved Ironing Board, Sarah Boone, 1892
  • Vacuum canning and oil burners, Amanda Jones, 1880s
  • Gas heating furnace, Alice Parker, 1919

Really, I don’t care who invents our perfect butler-bots, but history implies it’s going to be a woman. Ladies, just let me know when I can place my order, okay?

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Princesses Aren’t the Problem

(If I could have gotten the embed to work, this would have been the image I would have used for this post. Click to see it in full awesomeness and pretend.)

A private all-girls’ school was kicking up a hoopla lately with what is being termed a “girl power campaign.” It features minimalist posters depicting references to fairy tale characters, with lines like “You’re not a princess” and “Don’t wait for a prince to save you.”

Considering it’s an ad campaign designed to draw attention (and donor money) to the school, I’d say they did a good job.

But these posters are also being lauded in general for their “down with princess” terminology. And I have a problem with that.

Judging from some pundits, being a huge fan of Disney movies and fairy tales in general should have made me into a simpering, sparkly, pink-wearing fanatic who doesn’t know how to change a tire or earn an income and spends her whole day writing “Mrs. Prince Eric Charming” over and over on my TrapperKeeper.

And yet… I am not that. I’m a feminist, socially conscious, job-and-a-half having, multicolor-wearing woman — and I’ve never even owned a TrapperKeeper, nor have I figured out whether to take my fiance’s last name or not. (And yes, I do happen to like sparkles. Tasteful sparkles, anyway. Moderation!)

*GASP* How can this be?

Because, frankly, the characterization as “princess = weak and disempowered” is a complete misattribution of these characters.

A quick sample:

  • Snow White: importance of kindness; friendship; value of hard work; internal beauty to match external beauty (she’s the most “princessy” of all the princesses, but the movie came out in 1937…so history is at play here)
  • Belle: intelligence/book smarts; value of reading; kindness; family loyalty; facing your fears; standing up for what you believe in; opposing bullies
  • Jasmine: not a prize to be won; clever; ability to look beyond monetary value; fights back against a giant magical snake; protects her father
  • Ariel: goes against outdated “separate but equal” policies (segregation between merfolk and humans); plays up her talents; exploration/discovery; doesn’t value her looks (unlike her sisters); not afraid to show her enthusiasm; refuses to give up; saves a man from drowning
  • Mulan: values her family over her own life and her culture’s strong dictates against her decisions; refuses to give up in the face of a challenge; smart and adaptive; creative; unlike the men, values her romantic partner for more than what he can do for her (also: not a princess, actually)
  • Tiana: businesswoman/entrepreneur; overcoming racism; friendship despite differences; courage; belief in following her dreams

It IS a problem that a girl in a Disney movie can’t make it through without finding a forever beau (Merida escaped the trend, though, so there is hope!). It IS a problem that toys are separated into “girl toys” and “boy toys,” when, in practical situations, kids will happily play with both. It IS a problem that for a company to sell to girls, they think they have to make things pink (especially when pink was the “boy” color until the 1950s!). It IS a problem that dress-up choices for girls can fall almost exclusively on the “princess” spectrum.

But just because a girl admires a princess does not mean that she is a wussified, pathetic, glittering freak.

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Exercise Your Voice

You could say I’m gym-phobic. I’ve never felt comfortable going to one, never knew what I was doing, felt intimidated by spandex-clad shark-grinned instructors, was certain everyone was silently mocking me while I struggled with the treadmill.

But last year, I made a New Year’s resolution that I would start taking a fitness class. I figured a class was a surefire way to get myself moving at least an hour a week (and that when I know I’ve paid to be somewhere, I show up even when I don’t wanna).

Through luck and Google Maps’ navigational skills, I ended up at a Nia class, and it was the best thing I did all January. And I’ve gone just about every Saturday since.

I had no idea what Nia was before I tried it, and I struggle to explain it now. It’s a dance class, but it has martial arts, too, and yoga and imagination, and it changes every week and it’s pretty much nothing like Zumba. It’s a barefoot exhilarating, strengthening, enlivening class.

My class is overwhelmingly female, and while I don’t think Nia is a “lady class,” I think women take to it particularly well because it’s a little subversive.

One of the main lessons I’ve picked up in my classes has nothing to do with how high I can kick or my ability to do a cha-cha step. Nia has taught me to use my voice.

I think it’s a byproduct of my gym-phobia, but there’s a hefty dose of my personality (hello, mousy writer stereotype!) and cultural teachings. See, my gym classes in middle school and high school were like this: girls, go play badminton. Boys, we’re going to play football. Boys, today we learn how to use the weight machines safely; girls, Jazzersize time!

(I never did learn how to use the weight machines, which would have been really freaking useful come college, thankyouverymuch.)

All my attempts at exercise were quiet. I was so terrified of being noticed, of being watched, that I made no sound at all. I never talked to helpful-looking strangers or panted aloud while clambering awkwardly on the stair-stepper. I was head-down, intensely concentrating, focused on getting out of there as soon as I humanly could.

But that doesn’t work in Nia. Nor, I found, did I want it to.

Our instructor, Jule, cheerfully encourages us to vocalize, leading by example. Most of the time, it’s martial arts-style “ha!”s. But sometimes, she does something radical:

Ok guys, say “NO!” when you perform that block. Let me hear you: “No! No! NO!”

This was revolutionary to me. It was like we were visualizing obstacles in our lives and literally beating them down. Woah.

Other times, we may hiss or meow in cat pose, or say “YES!” or “one!” In one class, we ran through a litany of “you!” “me!” “we!”

After 10 months, I’ve noticed a theme. Overwhelmingly, these vocalizations — which turned out to be fun to do — are about defining our personal space. “NO!” comes up in fighting off imaginary attackers, or fending away an overloaded schedule of tasks. “YES” invites us to try new things, to be clear in what we want and do something about it. “ONE” reminds us that we are only one person, and we are there exercising just for us. (Even when we’re pretending to be cats, we’re taking ownership of our personal space– you don’t want to pick up a hissing cat, amiright?)

That’s what is so subversive about it. Drawing boundaries around yourself, speaking up for what you want — these are things we are often told, as women, aren’t for us. We are expected to accommodate others, to be flexible, to give up our needs in exchange for being someone else’s caretaker.

It’s taken me a few months, but now I am loud and present in my class every week, shouting with the others in our group. Finally, I can own, and voice, my participation — saying YES every day.

Note: Other exercise routines might do this for you, but Nia is what works for me. If you’re gym-phobic, keep trying. There’s something out there for you.

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‘Don Jon’ is the Most Feminist Movie

It helps that the leads in this movie are both totally yummy.

Joseph-Gorden Levitt’s new movie “Don Jon” has more naked breasts, mostly naked butts, and revealing outfits on skinny, attractive women than any other movie I’ve ever seen. It probably deserves a Razzie for “most naked boobies to appear in film without losing its rating.” It features a caveman-like guy who aims to score with a different chick every weekend and an uptight controlling bitch.

It’s also the most feminist movie I’ve seen in years.
Before I go any further, let me say I LOVED “Don Jon.” It is a great film. The ending is a bit open-ended, and I’m not in love with that style, but the rest of the movie is so smart I didn’t mind that my fiance and I paid $22 bucks to watch an 86-minute movie. It’s also not for everyone; in fact, I’m really surprised it got made at all. It’s not a movie you should see with any friends or family that you would be uncomfortable watching porn with, so, um, beware before you go. But I absolutely think you should see it.
The movie is about a New Jersey-ite named Jon, considered so good with the ladies his bros have given him the appellation “Don,” thus “Don Jon.” He’s a man of simple tastes: he cares about his “pad,” his family, his Roman Catholic church**, his “boys,” his “girls” (a different one every night), and… his porn. He sees nothing unusual about the inclusion of the last one, and goes into great voiceover detail about what exactly he likes about porn over “smashing” with real ladies.
**(Sidenote: There’s also potential for a really interesting theological discussion when it comes to the Catholic church and Jon’s ability to wipe his sins clean every week, to the point that he uses the number of Hail Mary’s he’s assigned as a marker for how “well” he’s done that week. But that’s for another time.)
But then he meets a ‘dime.” Barbara (Scarlet Johansson) is a perfect 10 for Jon, and when she goes home without sleeping with him, he thinks maybe he needs to change his strategy. So he tracks her down and asks her out.
What about this setup is so brilliant? Because “Don Jon” lures you in by telling you it’s about porn and sex, when really it’s about the way the media we consume makes us think about gender roles.
[Moderate spoilers below!]

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I’m a Terrible Bride

I'm a writer, not an artist, ok?  See how  only two dresses have some kind of straps/sleeves? Yeah, that's an overrepresentation. Strapless EVERYTHING, OMG.

I’m a writer, not an artist, ok? Click to see it bigger.
See how only two dresses have some kind of straps/sleeves? Yeah, that’s an overrepresentation. Strapless EVERYTHING, OMG.

I try not to talk about it much because I figure most folks don’t care one silly wit, but I’m getting married in the next year. This, so far, has meant that I’m doing a lot of talking to people who want to sell me lots and lots of things I’m “supposed” to have, and for which I don’t really have a lot of money.

We’re on the dress stage. And I’m suddenly finding out that there are a ton of presuppositions about what that is supposed to mean. I knew about some stuff: mom and girlfriends squeeing over a dress; white satin and lace and sparkly things; fitting rooms and sample sales.

But I didn’t expect so much pressure to like it all.

So that’s why I’m a terrible bride. I don’t necessarily love the experience. Getting into dresses was hot, time-consuming, stressful, highly pressuring and…well, hard. Picking a white dress out of a bunch of nice white dresses is like picking the prettiest flower–they all have nice things you can say about them!

And in this case, all the flowers are danged expensive, too, so that’s another thing I have to worry about.

But most people I’ve talked to about it have been all “oooh, don’t you just love it? Isn’t it so exciting?” Well….no?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to get to marry my fiance. He is the bee’s knees. He makes me smile and makes me a better person. I feel like I can do anything with his support. But wedding planning isn’t exactly a bag o’ fun.

Beyond that, I find that some of these ideas have seeped into my brain somewhere along the line. I had this idea that buying a dress would come fully charged with “MAGIC”: There is supposed to be this magical moment where I put on a dress and look more beautiful than any woman who has ever lived or been imagined, ever. There might be fireworks, but at least sparklers and glitter cannons.

It turns out there aren’t even pom-poms and, when I put on a dress, I look exactly like me…in a dress. I don’t somehow look “more” or “better.” It’s just me, looking a little flushed from the lights and a bit bedraggled in the hair because you have to “dive in” to so many of these dresses that can otherwise stand up by themselves.

How I think I should look (left) vs. How I really look. Click to read the tiny writing.

How I think I should look (left) vs. How I really look. Click to read the tiny writing.

Despite all that, I think I’ve found my dress. I’ve been plagued with doubt because it wasn’t a magical transformation, but reassuring words from bridesmaids and groom alike are helping. Plus I’m going back to the bridal shop for the third time–I’m sure the owner has had enough of me by now–to try it on, all by myself, and see if being alone will reduce the pressure enough so that I can see myself the way I’ve been led to believe I ought.

 

Shameless plug for a site that has really helped me not be totally freaked out by getting married: apracticalwedding.com. It’s sane advice about a crazy subject. Go look it up, it’s great.

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Once Upon a Terrible Show

3 Reasons Why “Once Upon a Time” is the Show I Love To Hate

I’ve been binge hate-watching “Once Upon a Time” since it came back on Netflix. The show makes me angry with practically every episode, but I can’t stop. I just watch more and yell at the TV.

You’d think I’d be the kind of viewer who would love this show. I LOVE fairy tales of all stripes, but particularly the original Grimm and Anderson tales. I can sing along with every word from 99% of all Disney movies (except “On the Range.” Nobody saw that one.) I even love retellings of fairy tales and classic stories–I watched ALL of “10th Kingdom” when it aired on TV, pushing my parents out of the way to make sure I saw that show every night. I did the same a few years later for “Tin Man.” No regrets.

On any given night, you might find me rewatching either a Disney/Pixar movie or the likes of “Ella Enchanted,” “Shrek,” “Enchanted” or “Ever After.” (So many enchantments!)

So it was with horror that I realized, in the first episode, that I hated “Once Upon a Time.” (I’m halfway through the third season as of this writing). But I know I’m going to watch the whole thing because I’m a sucker and I’m taking this train all the way to the end of the line.

What’s got me so mad? Here are the three reasons I hate “Once Upon a Time.”

1) It betrays the original concepts.

As I hope I’ve made clear, I LOVE re-imagined stories. They offer a new perspective on something we think we already know and love, and broaden our views of what “really” went on (one of my favorite books as a kid was “The Real Story of the Big Bad Wolf”!)

But the term “re-imagining” can only be loosely be applied to the characters in “Once…” It’s more like “creating a new character and giving them props people will recognize from the original.” It’s so disappointing. It doesn’t help that the ABC/Disney-created show wants to pull mainly from Disney stories, but also wants the darker edge of the originals. That means the source material is all over the place, creating a really awkward hodgepodge. A lot of the time, the backgrounds concocted for these characters are barely cogent. It’s actually getting a little better in the third season, but this mess makes it really difficult to keep track of any individual characters’ storyline. I feel like I’m constantly saying “wait, what happened? What’s going on?”

Beyond that, despite the many versions out there, there usually remains a kernel of the original story. There’s a universal tone, a charm found only in this kind of story. It’s usually uplifting, even if the main character has to die to find that purity (see: The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson) That tone feels like it’s completely missing in “Once…”

2) It tries to simultaneously make fairy tale worlds and the real world suck.

It’s a bad sign that I’m three seasons in and I still can’t figure out a) why any of the fairy tale folks wanted to leave their magical world or b) why the people of Storybrook would want to go back.

Let’s look at this carefully: There are two villains who apparently wanted to go to non-magic land. Though they both kept a way to use some of their magic, it was really limited. Furthermore, they both got massive demotions: Queen moves down to mayor (I guess it matters if it’s a strong mayor system or if there’s a city council…all the mayors I’ve known don’t really have that much power…) and super-magical Rumplestilskin becomes… a pawnbroker. Well that doesn’t make sense. I mean, I don’t watch “Pawn Stars,” but I get a sense that they aren’t among the 1%, if you know what I mean.

Plus, everything was going just dandily for about 28 years before the hero of the show popped up, so what were they doing for all that time that was SO MUCH BETTER than their lives as all-powerful magical folks would have been in magical-land?

Then I thought perhaps it was more about watching your enemies be humbled. Muhahahaa, the princess is reduced to… being a kindergarten teacher. And…she’s actually really kinda good at it? I mean, I guess she’s not with her magical prince or whatever, but that’s not a bad life, all things considered. She’s got a really cute apartment and stuff.

And then when Henry, ie. the most annoying and delusional kid ever, “discovers” that they’re all magical creatures and works to free them all… why would they want to go back? Now that they’re awake instead of regular-world zombies, they can get back with their beloveds! And now they can do what they want! They’ve sort of built nice lives for themselves in Storybrook. Would you want to go back to a place where someone is always trying to magically kill you? Plus now they get modern medicine, which is apparently more reliable than magical lakes.

If magical-land was as dramatic and messed up as the flashbacks make it out to be, why go back at all? Aside from kinda being trapped, Storybrook seems like a pretty nice place to live.*

*though I do wonder where their food and supplies come from. Do they get, like, a biweekly shipment from the outside world? Can I visit Storybrook? I’d like some of Grandma’s pie.

I’ll be a good mother if we just keep insisting the other woman is a bad one!

3) It has a twisted idea of family.

The other things are annoying, but this–this is the thing about “Once…” that really grinds my gears. It’s probably inevitable that a show based on Disney princesses would involve a lot of love stories, and I expected that. But that has morphed into this insane devotion to a very particular kind of “family,” to the sacrifice of literally everything else.

For example, in the first season, Henry claims his adoptive mother is the Evil Queen. That’s a pretty hurtful thing to say to someone, so I was waiting to see how that would be demonstrated. Regina was SO MEAN…she made him do his homework? And..baked him pies (using non-lethal apples). And… what exactly did she do to him that was so offensive and made her a bad mother?

Whereas Emma abandoned him as a baby (probably justifiably so, based on the allusions she makes to her past at the time) and yet she becomes the Heroic Mother very quickly. She, in comparison to Regina, doesn’t seem to care about things like school, doesn’t seem to know how to take care of herself, must less Henry, and, while perhaps a decent babysitter, isn’t really much of a mother. And she makes it very clear that she doesn’t really WANT to be his mother, repeatedly trying to drop him off at home! But the show forces her into the motherhood role, and before you know it, she’s acting crazy-protective of this kid she barely knows, storming up to Regina and saying things like “well, he’s MY son.”

Actually Emma, no, he’s not. You gave up custody a long while ago. Regina’s the mom here, you’re just some weird interloper.

Then we go to other familial relationships: Snow and Charming. It infuriates me that, with everything else going on, all Snow wants is a baby…and preferably a boy, because (of course!) they’re better. Sorry, Charming, you got stuck with a girl, oops! Wanting to protect her kingdom? Insufficient motivation. Wanting to save her beloved? Insufficient motivation. Revenge? Insufficient. She has to obsess over her kid.

This show is chock-full of examples like that. All the women (even Mulan! What a travesty!) are required to be motivated by a) wanting a man (if they aren’t yet married) and then b) taking care of their kid/having a kid.

A man, on the other hand, can enjoy kids, but really they are around to fight things. Philip sacrificing himself nonsensically and very quickly; Charming being incompetent at everything except swords; even Pinocchio as a kid went out of his way to fight things! It’s ridiculous.

And if you dare violate that standard? Something terrible is guaranteed to happen to you. For example, Rumple’ ‘s wife, who admittedly was a horrible wife and mother for a lot of reasons, didn’t deserve to be murdered. Regina dares to adopt a kid rather than having one of her own? Clearly she’s a bad mother and deserves to have her world ruined.

Rumple was denounced as a coward because he wouldn’t fight and would rather take care of his son; that breaks the rules, so his whole life is systematically dismantled.

I think “Once…” sends a horrible message, particularly to kids from non-nuclear families and kids who aren’t gender-conforming. Sure, girls, you can want to fight dragons, but only if you do it for your baby. Boys, grab your swords or be labeled a coward forever. It’s so disappointing, but the show seems to be popular.

Proponents of “Once…” speak up, tell me what you like about it. Please try to convince me I’m wrong, because I desperately want to like this show.

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Dad Wears the Short-Shorts in the Family

If you were on the internet at all last week, you couldn’t help but see this story, about a dad who “taught his daughter a lesson” by going out to dinner in short-shorts, aka. Daisy Dukes.

My first reaction, like most people’s, was to laugh. It’s a funny way for a dad to fuss about his daughters’ outfit, sort of a middle-aged dad protest. But the more I read those stories, and how the father was being praised, and about the “appropriateness” of the short-shorts, I stopped laughing. And I’m not sure I get it now.

Before I say anything else, let me be clear that I think this parent can make whatever rules he wants (provided no one is actually being harmed, of course) and that a little teenaged humiliation is just par for the course in a family. I will also say that I never owned very short shorts, first because my parents only bought shorts that were school-approved (aka embarrassingly long) and later because I felt to self-conscious to buy them myself. So I speak from indirect experience of the short-short phenomenon.

Anyway, back to the case in question. A dad disagreed with his teenaged daughters’ choice of pantaloons and showed his displeasure (after she refused to change) by cutting a pair of old jeans to make his own short-shorts, which he then wore out to the family dinner.

The caption on the NY Post version of the story is: “Scott Mackintosh struts his stuff to teach his stubborn daughter an unforgettable lesson.”

But… what, exactly, is the “unforgettable lesson”? Is it that if you do something dad disagrees with, he’ll make fun of you? Is it that your dad has nice gams?

The lesson we’re supposed to clearly grasp here is that short-shorts are “inappropriate” attire. But… says who? And why? What about shorts is inherently inappropriate?

I’m not trying to be facetious here; I am truly asking what the problem is. (Again, I acknowledge that this family may have rules about clothes, and that’s fine. But the story would not have gained popularity if other people didn’t agree in some way, and the NY Post article specifically states the girls’ shorts were “inappropriate.”)

So why are shorts that are short inappropriate? Is it the quantity of leg shown? Why are the tops of a young girls’ legs inherently scandalous?

I’m reminded strongly of Rosea Lake’s image “Judgments.” Check it out.

I said earlier I had never owned short-shorts. And you know what? Now I wish I did. Instead I feel very self-conscious about my legs and their shape, and I feel I missed an opportunity. Even though it frequently tops 100* in Texas during the summer, I predominantly wear jeans. Why? I’m ashamed of my legs, even when they’re fit and strong. I’ve gotten the message that my legs are shameful, loud and clear, so it was easier to just bow out of the conversation altogether than to try to find well-fitting “appropriate” shorts.

It’s so difficult for women and girls to feel comfortable in their own skin that I find the popularity of this image and its message a little disappointing. At 15, girls are exhilarated about their evolving shapes. They are beautiful, but are awkward like young fillies. Let them wear short-shorts, I say.

And yeah, I don’t have any problem with their dads doing it, too, if they want–but they might be mistaken for basketball players. (But that’s a different body-shame conversation for another day.)

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You’re Equal to Me in Every Way…For A Lady

The full cast o’characters.

In fighting the late-summer heat, I recently picked up a new-t0-me video game: Dragon Age: Origins. It’s pretty cool; you are on a hero’s journey to become a Grey Warden and travel from town to town fighting monsters and trying to save the kingdom. There’s a lot of customization, and the choices you make throughout will affect the outcome of the game.

And you have to make a lot of choices. (It’s almost the Starbucks of video games: and would you like whip with that? (I’m easily overwhelmed by Starbucks….can you tell?))

The very very first choice, though, is building your character: Will you play as a male or a female?

In some ways, the fact that it’s even an option to play as female is a great thing; in some games, forget it. You’re just a white-ish athletic dude no matter what. So I always enjoy games that give you more versatility in that way.

The prompt as you choose your playable gender says Fereldon, the world, is a pretty equal place, with opportunities for both men and women in the three playable careers–warrior, mage, and rogue. That’s important, because I like to know when I’m cutting myself off from parts of the game with my choices.

So I built my female human mage with red hair and dark eyes and went happily on my way.

Except I was constantly reminded by other characters (non-playable characters, or NPCs, for you non-gamers out there) that woah, hey! You’re a lady!

In some cases, it made sense and fit with the story: when Morrigan the wild witch met me, she was more friendly because she carries a general dislike for men, having grown up in isolation.

But most of the time, it doesn’t. It’s more like “wow, you’re a fighter and a lady? Whodathunkit?!” In a world that is supposedly equal. And where I periodically see other female warrior/mage/rogues running around.

It just got tiresome. So this happened:

dragonage Twitter

Think about this in your writing. If your character is something different, that’s fantastic! We need more minority characters–not just female, but also non-white nationalities. And that should affect the story where appropriate–as in the case with Morrigan in Dragon Age.

But when all the “NPCs” in your book take time to comment on the difference, you aren’t showing that there’s equality. You may be telling the reader that there is, but what you’re showing is exceptionalism. And it’s pretty tiresome, both in our stories and just to read. (See: Repetition)

(There may be stories of exceptionalism where it is still relevant–“wow, she’s the only one who can do that!”–but I personally think the gender-based exceptions are played out. Do something different.)

Don’t tell me how equal I am: just let me get on with the monster-fighting and world-exploring. That’s how I KNOW I’m equal–because I can definitely kick some undead monster butt if you’ll just let me get on with it.

 

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Where Are The Super-Moms?

Hollywood/Marvel/DC, I’ve got a beef with you guys.

See, I finally got around to seeing Man of Steel, a movie I’ve been looking forward to because Superman, duh. And it was a fun movie and a worthy inclusion in the Superman films.

And I noticed something.

Kal-El’s dad, Jor-El, is really important. He’s got big dreams for his son, and is willing to sacrifice himself to make those dreams happen. And Jor-El can’t be stopped from helping his son even in death, because he magically imported his unconscious into a memory stick (or something. I wasn’t really clear on the how of that part).

And Jonathan Kent, as ever, is hugely important. He’s full of practical, hard-knock advice for this son that fell from the heavens to be his boy. And he is willing to sacrifice himself to save the family dog and to protect Clark’s secret. It’s Jonathan’s death that could be said to motivate Clark/Superman/Kal-El to greatness and noble sense of duty.

Martha Kent is looking for any sign of a superhero movie mom who is really important, not just supportive. I think she’s going to be disappointed.

But CK’s two moms? Well, Lara-El (is that how you’d do her name?) quite nobly …pushed a button…to launch her son to Earth. And stood…nobly? …while politicians sentenced the bad guys to jail time. And then she…nobly?…died when her planet blew up.

Martha Kent is every bit as practical as her husband, but CK leaves her to go grow a beard and play on boats. And she’s very supportive, but doesn’t have a lot of advice. Her biggest moment is talking to Clark through a panic attack. And she does that from the other side of a door. She, um…knows the value of her family photo album? Has a natural mistrust for Lois Lane?

Lara’s subconscious couldn’t be imported into that memory stick? Did that not even occur to ol’ Jor-El, there? And what the hell, Martha, you didn’t even try to rescue your husband! You didn’t even seem all that upset when aliens blew up your barn! You didn’t even seem upset that your son wandered off without leaving an address for, apparently, years! I mean, running a farm alone must be hard work…couldn’t you use a strong back? Or company, at least?

In other words, Man of Steel has two moms that could potentially be really significant in Clark Kent’s life, and both, in the movie, are reduced to being complete background characters. I can’t think of a single action that either of them does that had any real effect on the movie.

And Supes has four parents, so he’s got double as many chances to have a meaningful and significant moment from his mother. Judging from the movie, though, all he gets from mom is clean laundry and cookies when he comes home after long trips.

Seriously? That’s sad. I mean, I got more from my mom than that. I learned all sorts of life lessons from my mom, and I’d guess most people have. So what is going on here?

The bad news? It’s not just Man of Steel. It’s not even just Superman.

Moms in Movies

Luckily, there have been a lot of really awesome superhero movies in the past decade. Surely we can find an awesome mom-character in one of them.

Okay, Spider-Man. Peter Parker doesn’t have a mom around, but he’s got Aunt May, arguably the nicest woman alive. But… it’s Uncle Ben who utters that incredible quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And it’s Uncle Ben’s death that spurs Peter to become Spider-Man. In the first movie, all Aunt May does is cook a mean Thanksgiving turkey and struggle to pay for her house. Oh, and get kidnapped.

She doesn’t even get a single genuinely important line.

She fares a little better in the next movie, Spider-Man 2, when she talks about why people need heroes, but …she doesn’t even know Peter is Spider-Man, so while this is a lovely moral statement, she doesn’t do much.

Batman: Everyone knows Batman’s parents die early on and it’s very sad and makes him want to fight crime his whole life. But do you even remember Batman’s mom in Batman Begins? I didn’t even remember her name, if that tells you anything. Martha Wayne has three lines in Batman Begins, and one of them is “Dear…”! Thomas Wayne is a doctor! He’s a philanthropist! He is a business man! He saves his son from a well and tells him not to be afraid of the bats, and that we fall to learn how to pick ourselves up!

Martha Wayne worries about nightmares and screams as she is shot by Joe Chill. *sigh*

Thor: I couldn’t even remember Freyja’s name. She doesn’t say anything, anyway.

Captain America: Sarah Rogers wasn’t in the movie. In comics, she died in Steve’s teens.

Fantastic Four: No parents.

Wolverine: No parents.

Iron Man: Maria Stark isn’t in the movie. Her husband, Howard, is very distant and yet still manages to be a major motivator for Tony.

X-Men: Okay, we’ve got a group film here, lots of potential. Magneto’s mom is ripped away from him during the Holocaust–I guess that makes her significant, but she’s not the instigator so I don’t think it counts. We don’t see Storm’s, Professor X’s, Wolverine’s, or Cyclops’ parents, so we can’t analyze them at all.

Rogue’s mom (Mystique) is in the movie, but considering she’s evil and abandoned Rogue at birth, I think we can leave her out.

Iceman’s got a mom, but neither of his parents do much other than send him away to school. No moms to speak of in X-Men.

Green Lantern: I had to look this one up, because, like the rest of America, I didn’t see this movie. But the internet tells me Janice Jordan has zero quotes in that movie, though there is at least an actress listed and she is named (unlike Rogue’s adopted parents, who don’t even get movie names).

That covers all the superhero films since 2000, and frankly, it’s getting depressing, so any further will have to wait. Besides, I think I’ve made my point.

What Do They Do?

The moms in these movies do share some characteristics, despite being overwhelmingly background characters. They don’t serve as the moral guidance that their husbands do, and they aren’t the ones who set the hero on his journey, but they do provide emotional “care packages” along the way–a reassuring word, a cookie, a hug after they’ve nearly been blown up by the bad guy.

These “care packages” have the potential to be important and significant, but for the most part, they are just the sort of throwaway comments that sound good but have very little impact.

These moms are universally patient and kind. And supportive, loving, and loyal to their (often dead) husbands. (Actually, that’s pretty sad, too–can no super-moms date after their husbands die?)

Those are indeed characteristics often assigned culturally–we expect “good moms” to kiss our boo-boos and ask us if we’ve found a nice boy/girl to date. But I find it odd that, in super-cinema at least, moms can’t be the moral tentpole–can’t even really have enough initiative to do something themselves at all, really.

Super Comics Moms

The thing is, Hollywood/Marvel/DC, you DO have great material to pull from if you want to make some legitimately super moms. You could start with Aunt May and Martha Kent, each who in TV shows and comics have managed to be incredibly significant to their sons.

I understand Diana Prince/Wonder Woman has a pretty awesome mom–probably expected in an Amazon society where she’s queen, but still–so you could go ahead and make that Wonder Woman movie already.

Hippolyta crafted Diana from clay. Despite being Queen, it’s good to know she has time for art.

And I consulted my SO, who has read a lot more comics than I have so far, and he says there are some other epic moms you could look into:

  • Steve Rogers/Captain America– In canon, he has an abusive dad. It’s his mom who teaches Steve Rogers to “get back up” after a fight. (In the movie, that moral moment was erased, and Steve gets back up just because.)
  • Genis-Vell/Captain Marvel-His mom’s a single parent, having impregnated herself with baby Marvel using her futuristic technology. (It’s comic canon, that stuff can be really weird, okay?)
  • Kyle Rayner/Green Lantern-His dad abandoned the family when his mom was pregnant, so he’s also the son of a single mom.

We Need Strong Moms

But maybe you’ll notice the problem with all the above moms in that “good mom” section: They’re all single parents. In that sense, it can be assumed that those moms have to pull double parent-duty–they didn’t get the strong mom stuff because they are inherently strong characters, they got it because there isn’t a dad around to do it. And that’s stupid.

While positive portrayals of single moms are really important and worthy of inclusion, there is a distinct dearth of strong-mom figures in a two-parent household. Either there’s no dad around to give our hero his “hero moment,” leaving it to mom, or mom is a supportive background character only. (Even Martha Kent and Aunt May fit into that analysis, as they both only really pick up the leadership slack after their husbands die).

That is a damn shame.

It’s bad enough that we can’t get a female superhero movie made: why can’t we have a super mom?

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Critical Consumption: Dealing with Problem Media

This will be a hit during Fashion Week.

This will be a hit during Fashion Week.

I love Disney movies. To the point that it’s a little ridiculous, actually. In fact, the only person I know who definitely knows more Disney trivia than me works in one of the parks. I like the princesses, the music, the beauty of hand-drawn art, the themes that fill you with emotion.

But all that love doesn’t mean I don’t know about the problems those movies have. On the contrary, in a college psychology class I aced a project  dissecting all the ways Disney negatively portrays women. (There are quite a few).

Sometimes it seems weird that I would be so devoted to something that I find a lot of problems with–but that is hardly restrained to Disney. As a video game fan, it’s pretty common for me to be really enjoying a game that doesn’t line up with my personal views, or even how I’d like to fit into the world. And I’ll read books that do a poor job treating women as full characters.

There’s been a lot of news lately about Orson Scott Card and people protesting his books/soon-to-be movie because of his personal views. And some of my favorite Neil Gaiman stories feature content that is highly disturbing and very challenging to watch.

So what are we to do?

Growing up, I knew some religious parents who wouldn’t let their kids watch any movies containing magical elements of any kind…there really aren’t a lot of G-rated movies that don’t include magic in some way.

I don’t think censorship (even self-censorship) like that is the answer. I think it’s important that we take time to analyze the broader messages of the media we consume: both the messages we’re meant to be getting (as in The Little Mermaid: that love has no boundaries and can overcome all obstacles) and the messages that we’re getting even if the producer didn’t really intend to send them (that Ariel’s physical body is all that is important to her “catching” Eric; her personality is completely unnecessary and probably it’s better if she just focus on body language anyway).

This lets us consume the media we enjoy, and take out the best parts, while acknowledging the problems with the rest. We say “yeah, that’s true, that’s there, but here are all the reasons I like the rest of it.”

As long as you’ve got both parts, I think there’s something we can learn from just about anything.

What do you enjoy that sometimes also makes you cringe? What have you learned from it?

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